End of wet foot-dry foot policy causes uncertainty

January 14, 2017

Decades of diplomatic tension continued to thaw between the United States and Cuba this Thursday, as President Barack Obama ended a policy that allowed for the mass exodus of Cuban refugees to come to our shores without a visa.

It was President Bill Clinton’s democratic White House that battled with Cuban revolutionary and dictator Fidel Castro, and his Congress later approved the Helms-Burton law, or wet foot, dry foot policy. The law granted Cubans immediate protection if they reached the continental United States. The bill was passed by Congress after Cuba downed two small U.S. planes piloted by the Cuban opposition group Hermanos al Rescate, in which four men were killed, including American citizens. It was a revision to the open door act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson at the height of the Civil War, one that was amended due to recently deceased Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s manipulative treatment of his neighboring country; he allowed hundreds of thousands of Cubans to flee their homes and cross the Florida Straits, causing inconvenience in South Florida.

This Thursday’s unexpected action sparked a sense of uncertainty among members of the Cuban-American community, which makes up roughly 34 percent of Miami’s population, according to the US Census Bureau. Mrs. Margarita Falagan, who is a Cuban exile and the AP art history teacher at Palmetto, reflected these sentiments of conflict.

“What I’m concerned about is that [Obama] saw the oppressiveness when he visited ,” Falagan said. “He knows that it is still going on so why does he, at the end of the term, do this. But also, the policy is not fair to begin with and as a Cuban, I’ve always thought it was unfair.”

The policy, which in its original form accompanied a still-existing US embargo against Cuba, was enacted during the Cold War through the negotiations of President John F. Kennedy and Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev, as a response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The crisis nearly saw the desolation of parts of the United States due to the placement and near-deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuban land. Much of the conflict in the Cuban-American community over the recent end to this generational policy is rooted in the fact that Castro, and the communist regime that threatened the security of the US so many years ago, is still in charge and has not changed drastically in a way that would prove itself beneficiary from a diplomatic or economic standpoint.

Many Cuban-Americans have criticized Obama, claiming that he does not acknowledge the history between the two countries and that his recent moves are a way to shun the Cuban people from our borders. Junior and Cuban-American Christian Marroquin expresses these beliefs.

“President Kennedy once described America as ‘a shining city on a hill,’ saying that the American people must be aware of their great trust and great responsibility,’” Marroquin said. “The American government has a great responsibility to extend aid to our fellow global citizens in Cuba.”

Cautious optimism, which continues to circulate throughout the Cuban exile community since the death of Fidel, is still apparent following the most recent news regarding diplomatic ties with the United States. Ms. Ileana Vila, a Cuban-American teacher of US government and politics, hopes that the end of the wet foot, dry foot policy threatens the Cuban authoritarian government’s control over its people.

“It’ll be interesting to see how this news affects people who, even though Raul Castro thinks it benefits him, want to leave the island and are willing to risk their lives,” Vila said. “Maybe [Castro’s] wish of having the law reversed will be more detrimental than what he expects.”

Cubans both in the US and under the direct wrath of the longstanding regime may have to wait and see what President-elect Donald Trump decides to do before making any conclusions. The controversial incoming president ran a campaign that encouraged tighter border control and immigration reform at the forefront of its platform. The effects of last year’s highly divisive election may become pivotal to the positioning of all US diplomatic ties.

Junior and Cuban-American Melanie Ramirez holds out hope that Cubans will yet again be granted the chance to escape the communist regime and cross the Florida Straits with the guarantee of residency upon reaching our southernmost shores. She is, however, not encouraged by how the results of the election will affect her people.

“I wish [the law would be reversed], but considering how divided our country has become within the last couple of months, I doubt it,” Ramirez said. “Unfortunately, immigrants now are seen in such a bad light right now and it’s heartbreaking.”

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